Biden takes victory lap on climate bill in State of the Union

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President Biden touted the historic climate investments in the Inflation Reduction Act, the environmental and infrastructure spending he signed into law last year, in his second State of the Union address Tuesday night.

“The Inflation Reduction Act is … the most significant investment ever to tackle the climate crisis, lowering utility bills, creating American jobs, and leading the world to a clean energy future,” Biden said in his prepared remarks.

The president presented the law as an investment in resilience to natural disasters and the impacts of climate change.

“I’ve visited the devastating aftermaths of record floods and droughts, storms and wildfires,” Biden said. “In addition to emergency recovery from Puerto Rico to Florida to Idaho, we are rebuilding for the long term: new electric grids able to weather the next major storm, roads and water systems to withstand the next big flood, clean energy to cut pollution and create jobs in communities too often left behind.”

“We’re still going to need oil and gas for a while, but there’s more to do,” Biden said, with the reference to fossil fuels drawing some applause.

Biden presented action on the climate crisis as a moral obligation on the part of older generations and the wealthy, saying “we pay for these investments in our future by finally making the wealthiest and the biggest corporations begin to pay their fair share.”

The Inflation Reduction Act marked the most significant climate bill in U.S. history, putting about $369 billion toward climate action. The Biden administration has set a target of reducing carbon emissions by half from 2005 levels by the end of the decade.

Biden also hailed steps taken outside of the IRA, including plans to replace all lead pipes in the U.S., which were included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

“We’re replacing poisonous lead pipes that go into 10 million homes and 400,000 schools and childcare centers, so every child in America can drink clean water,” he said, referencing cases of delayed development and brain damage detected in cases like the water supply contamination in Flint, Mich.

The president’s guests to the address included Deanna Branch, a Milwaukee community activist who has spearheaded a campaign to replace lead pipes after her son fell victim to lead poisoning.

Despite the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, environmental activists and advocacy groups have given the administration’s recent action on the climate issue mixed reviews. While they widely praised the decision to block the controversial proposed Pebble Mine project in Alaska, last week advocates sharply criticized the administration taking steps to approve a major oil drilling project in the state’s North Slope.

In a report card issued Tuesday ahead of the address, the Center for Biological Diversity gave the president an overall C grade.

“President Biden still has time to lock in the bold environmental progress he promised during the campaign, but the window is closing rapidly,” Brett Hartl, chief political strategist at the Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund, said in a statement.

“With a hostile Republican House of Representatives, Biden needs to accelerate executive action at the [Environmental Protection Agency] and Interior Department to protect our environment before the 2024 election.”

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